Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Long ago I attended a church service on communion Sunday, when they pass around bread and wine. Next to me was a lady I never saw before, one who struck me as uncomfortable about being there. As the sauce came by our way, the sanctuary was solemnly quiet except for the organist's pianissimo ramblings, when I heard the lady whisper to her boyfriend in the quietest voice imaginable: "I wish they were passing out coffee and donuts."

Continuing in a religious mode, here's a quote from a little known Bible book:
"Your two breasts are like watermelons from the garden of Uncle Remus." (Song of the South 1:8)
Speaking of quotes, according to one authority: "It's a violation of copyright law to lift snippets of text out from somewhere if it's not properly attributed."—(Anonymous)

One of my favorite musical collaborations is the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Suzy calls them the Flying Wallendas.

At dinner Suzy made a comment about "The Chicago Art Institute". I replied: "It's called The Art Institute of Chicago." She said, "People know what I mean." I said, "Some people know what you mean better than others."

A year or so ago I took my car to be washed. The Hispanic attendant checking off options asked:
"Djew won hog watts?"
"Djew won hog watts?"
"Hog watts?? ... Ooooh!! No thank you, I don't want hot wax."
Much email list repartee reminds me of shortstops taking infield practice, diving for ground balls just out of reach, firing them back as fast as they can. Often they miss, but they do kick up a lot of dust in the process.

Have you ever noticed how apples have so many subtly different flavors, but a banana is always a banana?

I'm not the least bit standoffish, and have many friends. My problem is a limited tolerance for socialization.

The company I work for has a reputation for being a bunch of intellectuals. Therefore, I'm working on becoming a late-blooming intellectual. Gotta keep up appearances.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Life at Fancy Dan's

The drought is over. Today, for the first time, I walked into Fancy Dan's Hotsy Totsy Downtown Athletic Club, more commonly known as the Athletic Club of Columbus (ACC), as a fully sanctified, card-carrying member. Finally ;mdash; I can begin to get a piece of my life back. Given that by last Saturday afternoon I mused over the notion of diving off the Henderson bridge as I passed over it, I'd say the relief arrived none too soon.

It was a ten-minute walk from the front of my office building to the front door of Fancy Dan's, including a stop at my car, and less than six minutes walk returning to my car, by which time commuter traffic had subsided. This is good news, in that FD's is less out of my way in both time and distance than a trip to Bally's after work ever was in Phoenix; Bally's was eight or ten minutes drive out of my way, which I considered insignificant, compared to my commute of twenty-eight miles each way.

The biggest difference now is that I have to walk it. This is a good thing—not a bad thing. How could one rightly complain about walking a few minutes to a place where he will be exercising on a treadmill? I'm more than happy to make that walk. I'm planning on recording the distance in my log from now on, as I used to record my warmup and cool down laps at Bally's. I just measured the trek on Google maps by the shortest possible route as 0.334 miles. We'll see how I feel about it the first time the weather turns lousy, which around here should happen within the hour.

Upon arriving I announced myself as the new guy to the friendly lady at the front desk, whereupon she explained what was where, which I already sort of knew from previous visits as a guest. She added that there are "quarter lockers" in the back, but that I could rent a locker, and someone upstairs could help me with that.

Ummm ... quarter lockers? Yes, you just put in a quarter, take out the key, and when you're done, you turn the key and even get your quarter back. Well, that's a heckuva deal! But you see ... ummm ... I dropped off my wallet in the car before coming over, and didn't have a quarter. No problemo! She loaned me a quarter on the spot, which I gratefully returned on my way out.

It beats me why they have lock mechanisms that require a quarter if you get the quarter back.

Fancy Dan's does indeed feature a swanky locker room, although the appearance of naked state senators and lawyers strolling about in it is no different from that of naked folk of humbler station from Bally's.

The lockers have dark wood doors, and almost all have brass nameplates with their renters' names engraved on them. They must have different rates, because some of them are full length, adequate for hanging suits and overcoats, while others are ... ummm ... half length, I guess. I saw a man standing at one that had a whole roll-out system with little drawers and shelves with talcs and liquids and probably an underwear drawer and a mirror and for all I know a wet bar and an altar.

I'm afraid the "quarter lockers," which I had to inquire about to find, are not so classy. They do have the attractive wood doors, but are barely big enough to fit my gym bag, which I had to scrunch to cram in. This will be a problem on any day when there's inclement or cold weather, which we have 363 days a year in Columbus. I suppose I could check my overcoat downstairs in the check room, where there's a coat check lady who would like to receive tips in return for putting coats on and off of hangers, and protecting them from marauding bands of Hell's Angels that may pass through.

As for the workout itself: I started by running three miles on a treadmill, in a cramped corner of a fifth floor room, in a space with not much of a view, running underneath a TV with no sound, tuned to the news that showed banner headlines telling me repeatedly for half an hour that Hulk Hogan's son wants to get out of jail. I hope they let him out so I don't have to see that headline again tomorrow.

I'm determined to get used to the treadmill, because it's my only option for getting in reasonably consistent weekday workouts. Today was the first time I ran that far under 11:00 miles in months. I hope to improve on that mark considerably in the coming weeks.

After that, I hit the weights for the third time since I've been in Ohio, the first being the fourth day I was here, the second in mid-April. Though I spent only twenty minutes, it all felt very good, as I gazed out the west window at the Ohio Statehouse kiddy corner from the stately brick club while doing arm curls.

The workout area is distributed between the fourth and fifth floors, with the free weights and a few treadmills on the fifth floor, and a cardio room with nicer treadmills and other machines on the fourth, where the locker rooms are located. There are also handball courts, a pool, a basketball court, and other as yet undiscovered features. The basketball court has a steeply banked track circling it above, but it's totally unacceptable for any type of serious running—and about 20 laps to a mile. I may try a two-miler on it some day just for yucks.

Fancy Dan's may be ritzy in some ways, but as a gym it's only so-so. The workout space is certainly adequate, and was almost deserted. I think downtowners favor early morning and long lunch breaks, then escape to home at 5:00 PM, whereas I am irreformably a late afternoon exerciser.

The equipment in the weight room is mostly old, standard Nautilus stuff, and neither fancy nor well-organized. Fortunately, with free weights the only requirement is that they be heavy and have handles. What's there gets the job done. Tomorrow I will try one of the downstairs treadmills, which appear to be loaded with dials and programs. And of course, there are the usual ellipticators and stairstep and bicycle machines as well. I'm glad to have this place to go to, but quite honestly, as a gym, it's not as nice as the Bally's I used to go to, and vastly inferior to the one a little further away, in Scottsdale. Yet Bally's markets an economy level service.

One thing that makes this place different is being able to step out of the weight room and into a lounge where you can sit in an easy chair and watch a wide-screen TV, while a guy in a cute little uniform brings you single malt scotch, or other libations of choice, which you can charge to your account.

Very nice. I won't be doing that any time in the next several years.

In conclusion, it's great to be back. I think I can make this work.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

MANLY Sports

There have been far too many sissy sports allowed into the Olympics, and personally, I'm weary of it. I say it's time to beef up the agenda a bit with a few more MANLY sports. Here are some suggestions.

  • Hitting other MEN in the face as hard as you can. Oh wait, they already have that sport.

  • Throwing truck tires over a building—an activity popular in the deep south among MEN named Bubba.

  • Murdering animals—a perennial favorite of MANLY MEN who live in wooded areas.

  • Drinking so much so fast you throw up—quite popular with the college crowd

  • Projectile gas-passing.

  • Crashing cars.

  • Finally, for the more intellectually inclined MANLY MEN: marathon cussing.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Announcement of changes in company password po...Image via Wikipedia
Some time ago there was a Dilbert strip wherein, when charged with having a bad attitude, Dilbert responds: "My attitude is proof that I am thinking clearly."

In one of the conference rooms at the now defunct Motorola Computer Group there was a plaque with a quote from CEO Bob Galvin that said: "Come to work with a healthy spirit of discontent." Sometimes when people would ask me how I was that day, I'd respond: "My spirit of discontent has the flu."
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How to Tell the Difference

On a long walk though Columbus, as I headed up Neil Street, I saw an earnest looking young man sitting on the front steps of his Victorian home. He was holding something close and rocking back and forth rhythmically. As I observed him on approach, I guessed he was either religious or autistic. The effect and resulting behavior in some cases is much the same, making it hard to tell the difference.

As I passed by he gazed nerviously at me, while flipping rapidly without reading through a largish floppy well-worn book with a black cover, and gilt edges, whereupon I concluded my first guess was correct.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

On Civility

Scanned image of author's US Social Security card.Image via Wikipedia
Today I visited the local Social Security office in order to offer proof in person that I had been born. My life has just entered a new phase, as I have formally enrolled for Medicare. Perhaps I should also be buying up stock in Depends adult undergarments, as the leading edge of the baby boomer generation is about to hit traditional retirement age.

The Federal Building is one block up the street from where I work. What I expected would be a fifteen minute round trip took an hour and ten.

First, I experienced the humiliating need to pass through a security checkpoint every bit as rigorous as at an airport, except I did not have to remove my shoes. The bottleneck was tended to by four unsmiling drones, all well-practiced in the arts of avoiding eye contact and mumbling canned answers. For me to exert the effort to speak a friendly word toward any of them would have been pointless and possibly viewed as hostile and suspect. The guards are worse than robots because beneath the storm trooper gear are human souls, lobotomized by careers in aggravating innocent people.

The older I get the more I believe in the value of politeness and civility. My attitude is much the product of theocratic training, I am sure, tempered by many years of contact with people who seem helpless in their quest to do anything more than merely to endure with resignation the circumstances of their tragic, grief-stricken lives.

While I cannot make anyone else's life better, at least I can avoid making it worse. Whenever I have contact with other people, no matter to whom and no matter where—the old man taking my five dollar bills at the parking lot at six o'clock on a miserable winter morning, the checkout lady and bagger at the grocery store, and especially the functionaries in a government office—I always am aware of myself making a deliberate effort to look each person in the eye, look for a name badge and address that person by name if possible, to speak clearly, to be friendly, to behave as non-antagonistically as possible, and to say a sincere Thank You as we part company, possibly never to meet again. I even thanked and shook the hand of the policeman who issued me a moving violation on my last day as an Arizona citizen for being kind and helpful in dealing with me after I almost got killed when I spun out going down a mountain road pulling a trailer. I'm sure that men in his line of work are not used to that sort of response.

Whoever it is, and wherever it is, I make every effort to disarm and to diffuse any possibility of confrontation, to convey the message from the outset: I'm sorry if you've had a bad day today, but I am not your next Big Problem. I will not be your enemy today. I am here to get your help, am grateful to have it, and when we're done, I'll say so, and be on my way. Furthermore, I do this in all sincerity, because I have learned that if you give people half a chance they will respond in kind.

Life is hard. Everywhere I see evidence of beaten humanity who have manifestly lived their whole lives unguided by meaningful standards of behavior.

Walking into the Social Security office was a shock. I expected a short line and to be in and out, like at a bank. Instead I encountered another personalityless and grossly overweight armed security person crushing his obviously uncomfortable chair at the entrance, a man whose only job seemed to be to monitor people coming and going, with nothing else to do other than be prepared to handle some elderly retiree who "goes postal," a real possibility in a government office. (An actual US Post Office is one floor below.) Do you suppose he ever gets a chance to shoot recalcitrant Medicare recipients with that gun?

He told me to take a number and sit down. He suggested that pressing number four on the keypad to the machine that spit out the numbers might be a good choice. So I did, upon which I received a faded A-54 from a thermal printer.

When I registered on the phone last week I spoke with a kindly man who led me to believe this business would be a matter of waiting no more than five minutes. It was more like forty minutes, during which I had occasion to observe the sea of agonized flesh around me, and was reminded of Jesus' words about feeling pity for the crowds that followed him because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.

With the exception of one youthful, attractive, smiling couple, the man wearing a tie, the remaining population in the waiting room suggested that perhaps someone had dredged the Olentangy River and brought in whatever bottom-dwellers they found.

There were the usual complement of specimens from one- to two-hundred pounds overweight. There was a fat woman with tight clothing whose midriff hung comically out of her clothing. She was toting a toddler who had only one vocabulary word—an ear-splitting: "AAAAH!" shrieked repeatedly in a style reminiscent of Sam Kinison. There were the ones with their hats on sideways who spoke in plosive one-syllable words only they can understand. "Yo! Do! Ho Dey?" And there were the ancient ones, barely walking with the aid of canes, various body parts not functioning or missing altogether. There was one very black man accompanied by two women wearing religious garb that covered them from head to toe, leaving only their eyes showing out. One enormously fat man in his mid-twenties with glazed, baggy eyes wished everyone in the room a happy Mother's Day on his way out the door as an older woman led him out of the room by the hand. I hope he's been taking his meds.

Even the people in the booths behind the counter were typical of what I have come to expect in government offices—drones with utterly no apparent life. One woman called out numbers. She wore black horn-rimmed glasses, had hair that drooped down both sides of her face and curved under her chin, exposing only a narrow swath of her homeliness, which bore an expression that suggested someone had just planted a fresh pile of something extruded from the rear end of a dog on the desk right next to her, as she called out "B-ONE-EIGHTY-NINE!" three times before deciding that B-one-eighty-nine had left the building.

To be expected were the signs forbidding objectionable behavior, necessary because some people do these things at home and elsewhere, but that spitting on the floor and urinating in the corner is not acceptable in this dignified establishment.

I was fortunate to be called by a thoughtful woman who worked efficiently, was not unpleasant, and answered my clearly articulated questions. I believe I left her relieved that she did not have to confront yet another nut case today.

The appearance of the average Joe on the street these days has nothing to do with religion per se. But people don't get to look the way so many do today without a lot of practice. As I thought about it, I was reminded of what the prophet Malachi predicted about our day:
And YOU people will again certainly see [the distinction] between a righteous one and a wicked one, between one serving God and one who has not served him."—Malachi 3:18
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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two Running Vignettes

Part One

Most every Saturday of my life that I can arrange it, I spend the morning teaching others about the Bible, and then devote the afternoon or more engaged in long runs of varying dimension. At least that was my habit for the last twelve years before I moved to Columbus. While I've made significant forward progress the last month, things here have not been entirely rosy on the running front.

One factor that has not helped is no longer having membership in a club with a short track or even treadmills I can run on. One benefit from my job that has supposed to have been forthcoming since before I left Arizona is membership in Athletic Club of Columbus (ACC), just a short walk from my office, which would certainly solve my midweek training crisis overnight. For a variety of disappointing reasons I won't go into here, it just hasn't materialized. As a result of that, along with the winter weather, my running program has collapsed and crashed almost completely. I've gained two pounds a month since November, and until a couple of weeks ago, have run only on the weekend, often on only one day, and when the weather permitted it. I'm in terrible shape.

Poor me. Poor fat, slow, aging, angry and frustrated me.

So today was a Saturday. I had sort of hoped to do a twenty-mile run, but because of a quirk of scheduling, I had to go into the office to do some work—pretty much working for free, in fact, because yesterday and today the snappy, efficient little firm I work for moved its offices from the fourth and tenth and twelfth floors to the entire ninth floor of the building we inhabit. The construction workers have been banging away below me since January. We've been anticipating this move eagerly for a long time, and it has finally happened.

So I had moving tasks to accomplish today, and waited until our office manager phoned so I would know the stuff I needed had been carried in by the movers. My expectation was to go in, get things done, make myself useful for a while, head somewhere for at least a short run, and finally travel far to the north of town for some necessary shopping.

My commute is fairly short—about ten to twelve minutes from engine on to engine off—and I figured on a Saturday morning, it would be a breeze.

Imagine my surprise when I got off the I-70 at Fourth Street and found myself immediately in bumper to bumper gridlock, a mile and a quarter from where I would be able to park. And what do you suppose was causing the delay? When I arrived at the first intersection and looked west, there they were—hordes upon hordes of runners lumbering thickly south on High Street. The density of the crowd suggested the race was still young and I was somewhere not far from its origin, though I still do not know what race it was. (When I lived in Phoenix I at least knew about every race, certainly every one bigger than a tiny 5K and every ultra.) It was not until twenty minutes later, when I had advanced the six blocks to Rich Street, that I realized the runners were running westward on that street, crossing Fourth, the street I was on, then turning south on High. Therefore, the police were on duty, and letting through just a few cars at a time, conducting traffic as the runners would wish for to, holding it back until there were suitable breaks, but as yet there weren't many.

After crossing Rich, I managed to move quickly for a few blocks, figuring I was done with it, until I got to Spring Street, and what did my wondering eyes behold? Walkers, lots of them, all of them pretty slow, many of them elderly, headed eastward. I supposed they were part of the same race, and that these participants were far behind the others we had waited for, and that they were going to turn south and then double back on Rich before long, but the fact that I did not see one person actually running in this pack made me wonder if walkers were dispatched separately.

Eventually I managed to find my way to a parking spot (fortunately free on a Saturday), and got to the office close to a half hour later than anticipated.

The experience was enough to make me appreciate why it's necessary to have reasonable cutoff times in urban road races. Slower runners and walkers would like to be able to have all the time in the world to run their races, but the logistics of needing to put police out there to stop traffic, and the inconvenience and irritation to those who don't care a whit about the race and just need to get somewhere at a certain time, and also the impact on businesses along the route, cannot be ignored.

Years ago I read a quote from a Chicago journalist who took up running himself for a while, but later apostatized. In the article he said, speaking to self-absorbed running zealots so impressed by their newfound sport that it's all they can talk about: "You probably think that others are as interested in your obsession as you are. They aren't."

It was interesting to be on the spectator side of that scenario for once. I certainly wasn't upset about it, and frankly, the thought occurred to me immediately that I'd have rather been out there running with them than stuck in traffic waiting for them, even though I'm not much interested in that kind of race any more—the ones where I run down a street and finish 12,423rd out of 14,021 runners—although depending on how things go the rest of this year, I just might plan on running the Columbus Marathon, which also runs through the downtown area.

However, today it happened to be cold and intermittently rainy, not a nice day for a run. Not only that, the forecast is for worse to come, with lots of rain and temperatures around freezing the next few nights. What else is new? It's Columbus.

But wait, there's more ...

Part 2

Being at work is no problem for me. I genuinely like all my colleagues and my job, and there was important work to be done by means of which, for once, we would be benefiting ourselves, moving into fancy and comfortable new digs. But when I finished what I had to do I really needed to get out of there, so I did.

In Phoenix I logged well over 10,000 miles on a 155-yard track at a Bally's gym near my house. When I moved to Columbus, I learned there are two Bally's in town, one very near where I stayed the first four weeks I was here. I went to it on November 14th, my first day at work. I was shocked at how disgusting the premises was—on an awful, busy street, less than a third the size of the gym I'd frequented, stinking, filthy, dangerous looking, and smack in back of an establishment with a sign that said ADULT 24 HOURS in two foot letters. After lasting only two miles on a treadmill and ten minutes on the weights, while worrying about the safety of my gear in the locker, I concluded my tenure as a Bally's gym rat was over. I have not been back.

The other Bally's is in the far northeast corner of the city, and I'd been warned that there, too, was probably not a good part of town. Since receiving that warning, I've gotten to know the city much better, and while I had never been to that exact locale, I tended to doubt that it is a rough area.

Furthermore, I stumbled across my Bally's card last week, thinking I had shredded it. Knowing that it is due to expire very soon. I asked my record-keeping wife if she knew when. Yes—April 17, next Thursday.

So with the funky weather and disrupted schedule today, and needing to head north on errands anyhow, I figured I'd try to locate that Bally's to give it one more fling. After all, how bad could it be? A couple of miles on a treadmill and a few minutes of weights would be better than nothing.

It was not difficult to find the gym. It is indeed in a vast area of typical urban/suburban commercial properties that stretches for miles, but in a perfectly safe and tidy neighborhood, unlike the one in southeast Columbus, in which I lived four of the most miserable weeks of my existence, and would not recommend to anyone.

That's when the surprise came. As I approached the building and saw not only the familiar logo and blue and red and gold paint job, I saw also the very same architectural structure used by two of the Bally's back in Phoenix, including the one I used to attend—a two story layout, with the main gym floor upstairs. Suddenly I felt like a ten-year-old boy seeing the McDonald's Golden Arches after crossing Antarctica on a dogsled.

Could it possibly be?? Don't tell me—is this gym structured the same as the one I inhabited for so many years, and does it even have—my heart almost skipped a beat—does it even have—an INDOOR TRACK?

Yes indeed, it most certainly does, and is pretty much like the one I used to run on! As I stepped onto it I just couldn't believe it.

The external architecture of the building is almost identical to the ones in Phoenix. The internal layout is somewhat different in specifics, but in general is the same. I had no trouble finding anything. The locker rooms, pool, main office, and child care center are downstairs. The main room is upstairs. (They also have an elevator, but I never once saw the inside of it in Phoenix.) It seemed darker at this one, despite several more and larger windows, but I think that's because Phoenix is usually sunny and cheerful, whereas Columbus is dark, gloomy, and dismal most of the time, as it was today.

The organization of the Columbus Bally's upstairs is substantially different from my old gym. The stairway comes up to the middle of a side rather than to a corner. There is an aisle straight through to the other side. The machines and weights are older and well used, but certainly functional.

But the track itself is essentially identical—that is, it's like it was before they remodeled in Phoenix two or three years ago, which included resurfacing the track. (I think I wore it out.) This track has a stripe down the center, and also some words painted on it in two places that suggest walkers and slower joggers [sic] should use the inside lane. The direction policy is the same as Phoenix's—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday counterclockwise, all other days clockwise—a policy that is much different from a standard high school 400-meter track, which is always run counterclockwise, with the inside lane reserved for speedsters.

When I arrived I just stood there and gaped at it for a couple of minutes, not believing what I was seeing. I walked three laps, then ran three miles, reliving the memories, following which I did my first weight session since I was in Phoenix. It felt sooo gooood! But I could stay only about an hour because of my errands.

Tomorrow it is going to be miserably cold and rainy, and I am going back to do a twenty-miler. It will be my last, because my membership will expire next Thursday. This club is much too far away for me to visit regularly, so I will not be renewing my membership. By strange coincidence, though, it is 0.65 miles closer to a house Suzy and I were interested in than my house in Phoenix is to the Bally's I went to there. (2.60 miles versus 3.25 miles.) And while it is true that I would not have been able to get up to this club in Columbus very often over the past several months, I am absolutely certain that I would have gone a few times when I simply did not go out on a weekend because the weather in Columbus is so dog bad all winter long and prevented me.

As for now—my hope of salvation for my running program remains that anticipated membership in Athletic Club of Columbus.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coping with Incompetent Authority

As a freshman at University of Illinois, I took a boring required course. The instructor was an insufferable moron named Mr. Hawks, a graduate liberal arts student.

Early in the semester there was a big snow storm. It was an early morning class, and I arrived a few minutes late, briefly interrupting the class by my entrance, as I made my way to my seat, still covered with snow and slush—an admittedly impertinent thing to do, regardless of the circumstances. I've always been intolerant of tardiness myself.

Mr. Hawks waited for me to get settled, then asked, in a trembling voice reminiscent of Paul Linde: "Difficult journey, Mr. Newton?"

My response: "Not nearly as tedious as the destination, Mr. Hawks." He never dared to question me again.

As a graduate student I had an extremely beautiful and conservative (even for those days) graduate assistant instructor named Ms. Bello for my second semester Italian class who was at least as concerned about student attendance as she was about teaching Italian. She was in truth quite a nice lady, and I liked her, but I grew weary of her inquiring about absences, because my attitude at the time had become that class was somewhere I went when I had nothing more important to do. In those days I was a habitual class cutter, as my time and energy became more and more consumed by what I hoped would become my life work, and therefore gave less attention to academics. (I still managed to get excellent grades.) One day after I had cut class the time before, she asked me, as was her routine, where I had been. I responded with feigned embarrassment that I had been in jail because because a party at my apartment had gotten out of hand. Poor Ms. Bello was simply unprepared to respond to such an excuse. It was the last time she ever questioned anyone in the class about attendance.

Another time Ms. Bello stuck her foot in her mouth occurred when just before class one day she asked a fellow music student an organ major: "How's your organ?" Before she even realized what she'd said, he responded: "Hangin' right in there." Ms. Bello nearly had to cancel class she was so embarrassed.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Here are some thoughts I've wanted to express for a long time.
  • Yesterday I thought of a great mnemonic device, but I forgot what it was. I'm fully aware of the irony of this situation. Or maybe I was just looking for a way to use "irony" in a sentence.
  • Have you ever noticed? There are two holes in every doughnut—one on each side.
  • Whenever the Net goes down I look nervously out the window to see if there's a mushroom cloud.
  • A simple life is not an easy life. I'm far too lazy to lead a simple life.
  • The principle lesson to be derived from so-called secular humanism is this: Don't drink the Kool Aid until you know what's in it.
  • Give a doofus a powerful authoring tool and what will he produce? A document that veritably shouts: "I am a doofus!", often in several different fonts and file formats.
  • Searching a newspaper for a job as a Web developer is exactly as useful as looking for a future marriage mate in a bar.
  • It's funny how when you're digging for treasure you find a lot more worms.
Over and out.

Famous Last Words

On the morning my father died, he woke up and told my mother that he didn't feel well and needed to get to the hospital right away. It did not take long to get him to where he could be made comfortable, but there was nothing that could be done. His life systems were shutting down. People were called, and a couple of friends managed to get by in time. According to my mother, the last words she remembers him saying, acknowledging the presence of some who had arrived, were: "I love it when pretty women come to visit me." Moments later he lapsed into a coma, and died shortly thereafter.


We often hear people say dismissively: "Yeah, most of what's on TV these days is junk, not worth watching." The point-of-view seems to imply that the ones saying it have actually watched "most of what's on TV these days'" so as to make a proper evaluation, which says more about the speaker's use of time than the media content he is so quick to denigrate.

I wouldn't know whether such things are true or not. Although I do not presently have a television, I do watch some TV when I get a chance—but always what I choose to watch, as contrasted with mindlessly flipping through channels. Therefore, regardless of what generalized platitudes may be uttered regarding the overall quality of television programming, most of what I watch on TV is not junk, and is worth watching.

Newbie Is As Newbie Does

No one rises to an opportunity to make fun of newbies more quickly than someone, usually young and male, who was himself a newbie just last week and now knows everything. These people like to be alert to opportunities to respond to sincere questions asked on lists with handy and clever little phrases like "RTFM" and "google foo" and other cute quips known by self-appointed cognoscenti.

Once I asked a question about some technical matter on a Linux list, and received such a reply from a subscriber I had never seen before. On follow-through posts wherein he chided me to consult such and such a professor at ASU and some other resource he felt certain everyone ought to know. Despite being a Unix user since 1984, and having taught Linux briefly at a university, I did not know the reference, nor the answer to my question. In the course of things the fellow revealed he was a second year student at ASU. My response to him was: "Oooooh! A stuuuuudent!! No wonder you're so quick to assign me homework!" It was the last time I saw any trace of him on the list.

Life's Great Ironies

Did you know that

M O T H E R   I N   L A W

is an anagram for

W O M A N     H I T L E R

That charming coincidence certainly applied well to my first
one. To her daughter too, come to think of it.

Adena Mounds

Photo attribution: "Copyright by J. Q. Ja...Image via Wikipedia
So—yesterday I drove up to Highbanks Park, in the north end of the city, and because I've been sick for two weeks straight, opted not to do a long run, but wanted at least a token excursion to get some fresh air and bestir my heartbeat, so I walked trails for an hour and ten minutes, this time taking the northern loopy trail that I couldn't go on the last time I was there because the old feller volunteer at the nature center said it was closed because there had been snow and then a thaw with temperatures in the forties, so was too muddy.

There were no signs up yesterday saying don't go, so I went, and passed by a dozen or so other brave people while I was out. The route on the map is a bit confusing, but not hard to follow once you're on it. It's possible to make a complete looping out and back and cover everything, despite the appearance of a black widow's nest layout on the map.

It turned out to be only marginally passable, ranging from mildly sloshy to suck-your-shoes-off muddy. In fact, there were a couple of places I wondered how I was going to get around without having to wade through mud up to my shoe tops. Nonetheless, I managed to find sufficient roots and tree branches to hang onto, passing by on the edges of the trail, and didn't get too terribly filthy.

On the way back I encountered a man wearing up-to-the-knees riding boots. He seemed proud to demonstrate with alacrity his willingness to stomp straight through the the middle of the schloppfiest routes through the mud. His presumed wife had to walk around it. The expression on his face as he went by said: "I'm havin' fun, dude. Sorry about you!" Boys will be boys.

On the trip I encountered something labeled "Adena Mound." Sure enough, there was this anomalous lump in the landscape, one-hundred feet or so across at the base, rising perhaps ten feet at its peak. I didn't think too much about it, except that there is a second place in the same park also called "Adena Mound," which I encountered my first time at the park. So—How can you have two landmarks with the same name? I wondered.

My theory was that back in olden days of yore there was a local farmer named Adena who had a knack for discovering mounds. So like, one evening after chores back in 1870 or so, Chester Adena and his wife would go out exploring the woods in the area, and it would be like: "Oh say! What have we here? I do believe I've found a mound, Cindy Lou!" "And I believe you are quite right about that, Mr. Adena!" Cindy Lou would reply with loyal enthusiasm. So they'd put up a marker and call it Adena Mound, and thus they are all called to this day, somehow preserved and not flattened for highways and shopping malls out of respect for Chester Adena, who became such a well-known farmer philanthropist that they eventually named the tiny village of Adena, Ohio, in the far east of the state, after him to honor his memory.

Of course, I realized this was just a theory, and knew it was possible I could be wrong.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up Adena Mound in the Ultimate Authority of All Human Knowledge (the Wikipedia) and discovered that the Adena were a people who inhabited the area around 1000 BC, long, long before the possibility of any European contact (which fact no doubt helped them to live longer, happier lives), and that these people were known for—you guessed it—building mounds! (They didn't have Second Life and in those days to keep them entertained.) And these mounds seem to have served as burial structures, ceremonial sites, historical markers and possibly gathering places.

Well shut my mouth! A person could learn something wandering around in these parts.
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Friday, January 04, 2008

Across the Years 2007

On Wednesday, January 2, 2008, I returned to my hole in the wall in Columbus, Ohio, from my ninth annual running of Across the Years, my seventh consecutive year in the 72-hour race, where the question most commonly asked by friends both new and old was:

"Why, oh why Ohio?"

It's a reasonable question for anyone who has ever spent time in both places, but I don't yet have a satisfying answer regarding why I recently left Arizona to live in Ohio, so it will have to be the subject of another blog entry.

At Across the Years I double as one of the organizers in the months before the race itself, leaving me free to run the race mostly without distraction come race day.

The organizers of Across the Years endeavor to put on an event that is at least the best in its class — perhaps even one that will be regarded by others as one of the best races in the world.

This year featured the best field ever, with runners from twenty-eight states in the US, and from Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and France coming together to spend the end of 2007 with a fete of running, many of them past or present holders of world and national records, and with the setting of new records in mind.

Others have itemized and extolled the many features and virtues of Across the Years, which gets better each year, so it's not necessary for me to repeat all that here. Anyone wanting to know more about it needs only to spend an hour or so exploring the web site, with its pictures, videos, results with splits, statistics, history, FAQ, and other features to get the idea.

It is during the race itself that people can experience it best. At the race site runners, volunteers, and observers alike are easily swallowed up by the spirit of the event, quickly losing their sense of date and time, as for a while the race become their whole world. I find every single year that I must let myself down gently after the race, as it takes a couple of days to get my mind off it and return to normal life.

For those unable to join us, we offer the best webcast in the world of ultrarunning, with live results updated every twelve seconds, a program to send messages to runners that are printed and delivered to labeled mailboxes, a webcam, pictures posted during the race, live news reports, and for the first time this year, a dozen videos created by Jamil Coury during the race and posted on YouTube. If you wonder what makes ATY different from other races, I invite you to view Jamil's New Year's Celebration video. When was the last time you saw something like that at an ultra?

The webcast is a feature enjoyed largely by observers. For instance, I myself have never actually seen the webcam in operation, because I'm always busy running. It serves the purpose of making the race more of a spectator sport, something quite rare in the world of ultrarunning. The organizers have received an overwhelming number of enthusiastic and appreciative messages from persons who followed the race for hours at a time, sometimes getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to track how far their favorite runners had progressed.

The ATY Greetings Package has become a runaway hit among runners and visitors alike. I have become adamant about reminding people that it is not an email system, and bears only some resemblance to email. As I have illustrated to others: You can call a wrench a hammer—if you intend to use it to pound in nails. But you may be disappointed with the results. However, if you have another job in mind, such as holding and twisting a nut, that misnamed hammer might be just the thing you're looking for. Similarly, the ATY Greetings Package, which I call "I Can't Believe It Isn't Email," suits well the purpose for which it was designed.

It was with the idea of promoting the use of this service that at the prerace meeting on the second day that Paul quizzed those in attendance: "Who knows what's better than email?" In response, someone piped up: "Female!" I would be hard pressed to argue the point.

The race progressed as usual. At 9:00 AM each day a new batch of runners started running around the 500-meter dirt track. I'm the only person who can say he has run every day of every race ever held at Nardini Manor, so you might say I know every inch of that track. The surface was in lovely condition at the start, but by the second day it got beat up and hard. No one seemed to mind.

Because my attention has been consumed by moving the last few months, my running has dropped of radically. I arrived at the race basically untrained for it, having run 76.3 miles at the San Francisco 24-Hour in late October, and no long run except one of twenty-six miles on November 24th, single runs of fifteen and ten before and after that, and almost no other running at all.

The race brought my year's total running mileage up to 1912 miles, less by several hundred miles than any year since 1998, and far short of what I have run in recent years, always in the 2200-2400 mile range.

Consequently, I arrived with a multi-tiered set of goals for the race:
  • 325 KM (201.95 Miles) — my originally stated goal, unfazed by there being no hope of reaching it;
  • 170 Miles — realistic if I had an exceptional outing;
  • 150 Miles — pretty good if I could do it, but not great;
  • 120 Miles — the mileage below which I would experience total humiliation.
In the end I ran 154.100 miles, and took it easy after reaching 150. I could have reached 160 if I had chosen to go for it, but decided not to. I ran hard the last three laps in order to chink up the number of whole miles one more notch. That brought my lifetime total miles at Across the Years up to 1355.33, where I remain in fourth place all time behind Harold Sieglaff, and Martina Hausmann, who surged far ahead of David Upah this year, now in third place.

Happily, I never experienced any significant physical problems: no blisters, no unexpected aches, and most importantly, NO RUNNER'S LEAN, which destroyed both of my last two ATY races.

Sometimes I have little problem with sleep deprivation; at others it bothers me badly. My sleep strategy was to stay out on the track as long as I could, but if I needed to sleep, then do it. Normally I'm one of the runners who can be found out there banging out laps at 3:00 AM while other much faster runners are in their tents sawing logs.

Sometimes it's easier to fight sleep and revive, perhaps with the aid of caffeine, than to rest, then have to deal with getting stiff, waking up, and going back out into the cold in putrid wet clothing and aching feet. But the desire to sleep can be inexorable. In 2007 it haunted me relentlessly.

After analyzing my splits I concluded that I slept a total of about twelve hours during the race, which is more than usual for me. I have gotten by on as little as four hours for the whole race.

In my experience, the single most challenging difficulty to cope with at Across the Years is the cold at night. Winter in the southwest desert is not extreme, but the dry air drives temperatures down at night. Add to that being physically exhausted, sleepy, clammy, filthy, and starting to ache by the first night, and the occasional hallucinations, and you have conditions that are impossible to ignore, even beneath several layers of clothing.

ATY 2007 experienced unseasonably cold weather at night, with official high temperatures the 29th of December through January 1st of 55/31, 59/30, 63/33, and 70/46. The last night was comfortable through the early evening hours, but as the night wore on, it, too, became uncomfortable. About 10:00 PM on the third night, gusty winds arrived, sometimes impaling the balloons that were being put up for the New Year's celebration on the barbs atop the chain link fences.


The story of Across the Years is invariably one of the people involved, which we call the ATY Family, so it would be appropriate to mention various runners by name along with memories of my encounters with them this race.
  • Race founder Harold Sieglaff was notable by his absence his year. Paul Bonnett carried Harold's chip and number around the track with him on the one-lap "togetherness&quit; lap for runners, families, and friends at midnight, January 1st. With 2426.22 miles, Harold still maintains a lead of 810.95 miles in lifetime mileage over second place Martina Hausmann, and will likely remain the only 2000-mile jacket holder for several years to come. If an annual standard marathon awarded 2000-mile jackets, you would have to run seventy-eight of them to get one.

  • The inimitable Ray Krolewicz was full of stories, including about how he won a marathon in 1985 and arrived home to find his house burned down, but his family safe. He was also able to tell me that one kilometer is equal to 0.62137119 miles (to eight decimal places), and was able to calculate quickly in his head exactly how many kilometers I needed to have 150 miles. It made sense to me to watch the lap count and KM display on the board rather than the miles, since the course at Nardini Manor is a 500-meter track, and the mileage increases by the odd 0.31 miles per lap — frustrating when you have just passed a new mile plus a low decimal, because it takes four laps for the mileage integer to increment by one, whereas you add a new kilometer every other lap.

  • Pete Stringer beat me by 1.5 miles despite spending most of the third day in his sleeping bag with flu. Pete is 66, and his two-day performance might have netted him fifth place overall in the 48-hour race.

  • Daniel Larson was magnificent with his long, flowing hair and some of the most impressive leg muscles I've seen. Daniel won the 24-hour race in 2005, and was among those who were running fast at the beginning but did not go out beyond his ability, which some others may have done. In the wee hours of the morning I encountered Daniel at the aid station, when he seemed to be the only one out there not engaged in a death march, and I told him I was glad to see there was someone still interested in running this race. Daniel was not sure he agreed.

  • Very late the second night we were astonished to see someone go blazing by with the speed of a Bill Rogers, then again, then again and again, for eight or ten laps. It took a few laps for me to realize that it was Nick Coury, the middle brother between Jamil and Nate, all of whom are excellent runners. After the race, Nick, who is 20, rattled off a 1:21 lap (which maps to about a 1:04 or less 400), and Nate, who is 17, followed with a 1:27. The Courys, obvious examples of fine parenting, were all there as volunteers this year.

  • John Geesler is one of the swellest guys in the game. He has had some spectacularly good outings, but he has also encountered some rough spots. I admire John for never stopping. I've never seen him inside the big tent except for before and after the race. He's there to run or walk, not lie around resting and wondering how to save his race. Late on the third night I encountered John going so slowly that even I was passing him. He said: "Only reason I'm doin' this is cuz I got nothin' else to do. ... Just the sheer joy of it." Despite his low moments, John got 250 miles in the 72-hour, second only to Tony Mangan, which most years is good enough to win it.

  • Tony Mangan from Ireland came fully pumped and ready to go for all he could get. That he fell short of his original goal I will attribute to likely being a problem with the cold weather. But Tony won the race, with over 273 miles.

  • Pretty Carrie Sauter was a first timer in the 72-hour race, crewed by her husband Craig and friend Harry. When I first saw this delicate lady, not knowing her except through email, I wondered if she knew what she was getting into and is tough enough for a race of this type. Carrie ran courageously, smiling the whole time. She kept talking about how blessed she felt to be included in the race, and in the process nailed down an outstanding performance of 203 miles.

  • Jim O'Neil and Sue Norwood arrived a couple of days early, and remained quite visible around Nardini Manor, helping out where they could before the race. Jim and Sue are primarily trail people — Sue hiked the entire Appalachian Trail two years ago, with Jim crewing — and ATY was their first attempt at a 24-hour race. Appropriately, they got exactly the same mileage running on two different days. Jim and Sue are true friends of ultrarunning, and a joy to know.

  • Pam Reed, one of the most famous ultrarunners in the world, quit the 24-hour race after twenty hours with 94 miles. I never did get to ask her what went wrong, but she had written earlier to switch from the 48-hour race, where she had hoped to set a record, to the 24-hour, saying that she'd had a tough year.

  • Marshall Ulrich, one of the world's most accomplished adventure racers, showed up to do the 72-hour race as a tune-up before his upcoming transcontinental race, ran 56 miles, and packed up and went home. Apparently it wasn't his day. I was sad that I did not have a chance to meet him.

  • Glen Turner, also planning a transcontinental, experienced no such lapse. Glen finished the 72-hour with 235 miles, for third place behind Tony and John.

  • Paul DeWitt, who showed up with ambitions to break the American 24-hour record, found that he was unable to overcome a hamstring injury that has been plaguing him, so dropped with 66 miles, but reported many positive thoughts about his experience at ATY and his quest for the record in the race report on his blog, and will aim to be back.

  • Tracy Thomas, last year's 72-hour women's race winner and course record holder, has been fighting an IT band injury all year, and left after 50 hours and 175 miles — a fine performance by most standards, but not to someone who in other circumstances could win the race.

  • Aaron Goldman, who at 75 years of age is eleven years older than me on the dark end of the scale, made me laugh out loud very late one night as we were lumbering together down the east stretch, when he said: "There's no way to stereotype ultrarunners!" No kidding. As usual, Aaron beat me by ten miles, despite a mondo case of runner's lean so severe I wondered how he could stand up at all. Year after year Aaron continues to provide hope to me, and something to reach for at next year's race.

  • Don Winkley had no qualms about loading all his running gear in his 1981 De Lorean, driving it 1150 miles from Corpus Christie TX, and parking it for three days in an unpaved rocky parking lot.

  • Gavin Wrublik, age 6, got into the act this year when he asked his father to give him a transponder and a 72-hour bib, then went out and started knocking down laps. His 7.767 miles makes him the youngest participant in Across the Years ever. And if I know the family, I daresay it will not be his last time.

  • Aaron Doman, age 12, got 50 miles, looking good the whole time. I told his father Wendell that he looks like a real runner. Wendell responded: "He is a real runner!"

  • Ethan Pence, age 11, ran 35 miles and had a very strong finish, while both his parents also did well in their own races.

  • Alene Nitzky, the co-race director of ATY in 2003, is running well again after battling health problems, putting herself through nursing school, and moving to Colorado. She had an outstanding 48-hour run.

  • Friends of ultrarunning ZombieRunners Don Lundell and Gillian Robinson put up commendable numbers. Don, the master of pacing, always gets his 100 miles (103 this year); Gillian got 126 miles in her first 48-hour race despite little training due to the demands of their flourishing business.

  • Christopher O'Loughlin, who has served the race as nurse since before I became associated with it, and who just said no to a life threatening illness, is back among us and got 100 miles this year.

  • David Ammons has used his ATY runs to raise money each year for the National Parkinson Foundation — close to $75,000 in seven years — and meantime this year belted out an admirable 104 miles.

  • "Energetic Rick" Cheever, age 25 and a triathlete, back for the third time, stepped up from the 24-hour to the 72-hour race as a result of a last-minute cancellation, battled hard for three days with the support of an excellent and attentive crew.

  • Debbie Richmeier may have been the dark horse performer of the race, with her total of 167 miles to win the women's 48-hour race. Debbie won the 48-hour also in 2000, and told me she believes she can still get 180 miles and would love to try.

  • Dave Combs, the race timer, has now worked with us the last three years, and helped me out immeasurably by stepping in to perform tasks I was simply unable to get to because of my move, and in the process brought his own fresh ideas particularly to the presentation of the results listings, which are now better than ever.

In the end, six runners got over 220 miles in the 72-hour race, and nine over 200 miles. In the 24-hour race two runners (Daniel Larson and Dave Putney) got over 130 miles, while 12 received 100-mile buckles. Ron Vertrees finally received his jacket for accumulating over 1000 miles lifetime, and well beyond.

Across the Years remains an event that is fun but extremely challenging, even dangerous — not something to be undertaken frivolously. People can and do get injured or sick from running it, and one person has died. As I read the email filtering in on the Ultra list from people who were there this year, I am learning that an unusual number — including yours truly — experienced diarrhea, vomiting, and other unpleasant sideeffects following the race. But for the serious ultrarunner looking for a race in which to reach his ultimate potential, I can recommend no better than Across the Years.